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With Big Blue Madness — the first practice of the season — set for Friday night, dreams of final fours and national championships are floating through many UK fans’ heads once again.
Just don’t expect head coach John Calipari or his players to place that same pressure on themselves.
“Obviously we want to win national championships and I want to win national championships, but I’m more concerned about these players,” Calipari said.
“One of the things I’ll tell you is I don’t take this as life or death and the reason I don’t take it like it’s life or death, is because you die a lot. And that’s game‑to‑game,” he added. “I’m doing the best I can. I have the peace of mind that I’m doing the best I can and I do know that I’m doing it for the kids, not myself; so that I can live with myself and know that we are doing right.”
Coming off final four finish to the 2010-11 season and with another No. 1 recruiting class having arrived on campus, senior guard Darius Miller said he knows what UK fans’ expectations are this season.
“I feel like Kentucky fans think we’re supposed to win it every year, no matter what,” he said. “We’ve just got to live up to it. We made the choice to come here. We know what to expect coming into this season.”
UK will once again likely depend heavily on a talented group of freshmen this season — Calipari said four freshmen are among his top seven players — but the 2011-12 Cats will not be the same as Calipari’s previous UK teams.
“This year’s team is not conventional,” Calipari said. “We have three fours who think they are twos. We have no fives.”
Calipari said he’s likely to introduce more pick-and-rolls into this year’s offense after learning some lessons from his experience coaching the Dominican Republic National Team.
“We’ve been doing it in practice and I kind of like it,” he said. ”It gave me an insight that I have did not have: one, on how to guard it better, and two, on the real subtle opportunities it creates for your team, especially when your bigs can really shoot. And our bigs can really shoot.”
While this year’s Cats may not resemble the last two teams on the court, the players-first mentality of the program will not change.
“During the season, it is about our team,” Calipari said. “The minute the season ends, it is about those individual players, and we help them make decisions. We give them information so they can make decisions on what they want to do. I think, and again, you do right by these kids, they drag you to what you’re trying to do, which is put up banners.”
Photo from UK Athletics by Chet White.